Researchers Find “Anti-Environmentalist” Policies in Communist Romania Aimed to Dominate Nature
A study published in the journal Problems of Sustainable Development in 2019 has found that the early communist regime in Romania forfeited environmentalism to protect its own political interests.
The article, authored by Romania-based academics Alexandru-Ionuţ Petrişor (Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism) and Elena Tîrzman (University of Bucharest), indicated that the regime devastated Romanian biodiversity.
Upon taking power in 1947, the regime implemented transformative programs to mechanise and collectivise Romanian agriculture. However, these programs, which were closely tied to the regime’s political legitimacy, failed to significantly increase agricultural output. ‘Class enemies’ were initially held responsible, but when the resulting wave of executions and repression still did not increase agricultural yield, the government took the war to nature.
“Natural enemies of the people”, Petrişor and Tîrzman write, “were identified in an attempt to find an explanation for the failures.” Environmentalism, they claim, “was only part of the communist propaganda”, and official attitudes towards nature were “different when conflicting with economic interest”.
The research references three main case studies, ranging roughly from 1950 until 1960. The first is that of the bustard, a bird species that, despite being an officially protected species, was subjected to illegal plundering of eggs and mass killings by peasants. It was eliminated because its protected status was not tangibly enforced.
The second case concerns the pelican. Despite also being officially protected, pelicans were often associated with losses in the fishing economy, and they were carelessly killed as collateral damage in a campaign against another fish-consuming bird species, the cormorant. This, the authors assert, likely effected the “near extinction” of pelican populations.
Lastly, the campaign against the wolf is explored. Wolves were accused of economic subversion by destroying both domesticated farming animals and hunted game. However, the authors affirm, the official statistics supporting this thesis were heavily exaggerated.
Nevertheless, some 3600 wolves were killed yearly throughout the campaign. Yearly totals consistently increased until, the authors contend, “almost all existing wolves were killed.”
Ultimately, this investigation exhibits the disconnect between the ideal of communism as a sustainability-focused system and the reality that political and economic interests eclipsed environmental concerns in communist Romania.
As one Romanian commentator in 1950 declared, “in the socialist state, man does not only observe nature, but intervenes, directing laws to the benefit of the people.” This conviction that ideology transcended nature, a repudiation of basic scientific and environmental ethics, fueled, in the authors’ words, the regime’s “anti-environmentalist” activities.
Alexandru-Ionuţ Petrişor is an Associate Professor at the Doctoral School of Urban Planning of the Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urban Planning in Bucharest. His research interests include ecology and statistics. Elena Tîrzman is a Professor at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Bucharest, working specifically in the field of Communication and Information Science.